A Day in ER

Yesterday was something of a bitch for me, more so for my brother. I got a call just before 9:00 a.m. from the cardiovascular surgeon’s nurse, for whom I’d left a message the day before. She apologized that she had not returned the call earlier; she has not been at work the previous day. She suggested that, based on my comments about difficulty swallowing and minimal intake of food and fluids, he may be dehydrated, which could be serious. “Take him to the E.R.,” she said, so I did.

We arrived at the E.R. around 10:00 a.m., after a drive through Houston backstreets that seemed to be more than an hour but was probably closer to 40-45 minutes. I drove into the E.R. driveway and parked next to an ambulance. I walked inside and was told by a guard I could bring my brother inside, but would have to quickly move my car because it was in an ambulance spot (it looked to me like it was a spot designed for non-ambulance patient drop-off, but what do I know?). After a little confusion, I was given a wheelchair and wheeled my brother inside and to the registration counter to wait for intake. I ran outside, took the car to valet parking nearby, and walked back up the ambulance drive, clearly breaking the rules as I walked past a sign that said, “No pedestrians allowed.” I suspect a fast-moving ambulance could take a person out without much of a chance for the victim to move out of the way.

After the obligatory long wait intake, the staff placed my brother on a stretcher in the hallway. He asked for water; “no,” they said, not yet. There he waited for an hour until, finally, a young doctor, Steve Doucet, came and asked us many questions. He was a very, very talkative guy and my brother liked him. I liked him, too, but my impression was that he has a great deal to learn about medicine and about time management. On the one hand, I’ve never experienced a doctor who spent so much time with a patient. On the other, I wonder how many patients had to wait longer than they otherwise would because of his tendency to chit-chat.

Finally, finally, finally, they took my brother to an E.R. room, where he was hooked up to monitors, fed intravenous fluids, and otherwise poked and prodded. This process took many, many hours. During the course of this slow-motion medical play-by-play, I realized I hadn’t eaten lunch. I had a fried egg for breakfast, but that wasn’t much. After my niece got there, at around 6:00, she “relieved” me so I went to the cafeteria and got a slice of pizza. Various of my brother’s doctors and their professional teams came to visit and talk. Much discussion took place between E.R. doctors and cardiovascular surgery teams about whether my brother should be admitted or not. The decision to admit him came sometime around 6:15 p.m., I think, before my pizza break. They could not move him to a regular room, though, because they were all full. He would have to wait until a room became available. So we waited more. And more. And more. Before he could go to a room, he would need a full-body CT scan, so that was done, finally, around 9:00 p.m. And we waited more. And more. And more. Finally, I decided I had to go home. I asked the nurse, Rommel, who came on duty at 7:00 p.m., to call me when my brother was assigned a room. About 9:45 I headed downstairs to find my car. Around 10, the valet brought it around and I headed home to my niece’s house, arriving about 10:30. Once at her house, I raided the refrigerator and ate a slice of her lasagna, which was the highlight of the day.

I was in a light sleep when my phone, which I’d left in the living room charging, rang. I jumped up and ran to it, but there was no message. A moment later, a text message popped up, date-stamped 12:12 AM: “Hello John, just to let you know Woods is moved to bed 40. Still in ER.”

This morning, I called the hospital about 8:30 to get a status of his location. Still in ER. The hospital obviously needs more beds. After I’ve washed a load of clothes, I’ll head back up to the hospital to find him and to find out who knows what about plans for treatment, discharge, whether he’ll stay another night, etc. The results of last night’s CT scan could well color the decision about next steps. If he can’t get sufficient fluids and nourishment by mouth, my sense is that the only option is a bit longer stay in the hospital.

As emotionally and, to a less extent physically, exhausting as yesterday was for me, it must have been far more taxing on my brother. I can’t imagine (actually, I can, from experience) the discomfort of reclining in an uncomfortable stretcher, covered with inadequate sheets and blankets, and relying on other people )who are frantically trying to meet the needs of dozens of other patients) for things as simple as a sip of water or a trip to the bathroom or the bedpan.

We shall see. I think the clothes are ready for the dryer.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to A Day in ER

  1. Trisha says:

    The adventures that occur in hospitals is often shocking, and exhausting. You should of had two slices of that there lasagna. So trying for both of you in different ways. Well, I wish your brother a speedy recovery, is release soon, and on the mend. You take good care, also, John.

  2. Libba Swinburn says:

    Thanks for doing this. It helps keep us up to speed.

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